Thursday, August 25, 2011

Remembering Mike Flanagan

Mike Flanagan's 1987 card.
In the late 1970s and early '80s, I made a determined effort to transfer my baseball loyalties from the Twins to the Baltimore Orioles. It didn't take, for a variety of reasons, but I still think fondly of the Birds of that era, and careful readers of my blog and column will have seen evidence of how following that team affected my view of baseball.

One of the Orioles mainstay of that period was Mike Flanagan, 1979 Cy Young Award winner, whose body was found Wednesday afternoon on his Maryland property.

The Associated Press story on his death called him an Oriole "great." His 167-143 career record doesn't scream greatness, but a Cy Young speaks for itself, and this third-generation professional pitcher from New Hampshire did a lot more for the Orioles over the years than pitch. He was twice their pitching coach, served for about three years as general manager, worked in the broadcast booth — even threw the final pitch in the old Memorial Stadium before the move to Camden Yards.

If I were limited to one word to sum up Flanagan the pitcher, it would be tenacity. Earl Weaver, the Orioles manger, was a big proponent of the four-man rotation, and one big reason Weaver made it work was Flanagan, who literally went years without missing a start.

From Thomas Boswell, who covered those O's, in a piece entitled "Bred to a Harder Thing than Triumph" written after Baltimore's 1983 World Series win:

Flanagan is a gamer, an Iron Mike who pitches hurt. Once, he went 155 turns without missing a start. He has paid a high price for following the tough-it-out code of his father, his state and his manager. By ignoring various discomforts, Flanagan has seen his status shrink from superstar to that of the gut-it-out 15-to-18 game winner. He lost a couple of feet off his fastball somewhere along the way and will probably never get it back.

A second word: Wit. It was Flanagan who dubbed oddball reliever Don Stanhouse "Stan the Man Unusual." It was Flanagan who surveyed the O's rotation in 1980, the year after he won the Cy Young Award, and proclaimed it to consist of Cy Young (himself); Cy Old (the veteran Jim Palmer); Cy Now (Steve Stone, who won 25 games that season and copped the award) and Cy Future (Scott McGregor, who never did fulfill his end of the assessment).  And, added Flanagan, when you're washed up, it's "Cy-onara."

Word this morning is that Flanagan was an apparent suicide. If so, I guess the good humor and competitiveness only went so far.

1 comment:

  1. Aw, thanks for remembering his wit. I hadn't known who had coined those phrases.